Before Tuesday night, the last time a Democrat was elected to a countywide office in DuPage County was 1934, officials said.
That was year William Robinson was elected circuit clerk and Arthur Hellyer won the treasurer’s post. No one knew it would take another 84 years for Jean Kaczmarek to accomplish the same feat by defeating incumbent Paul Hinds with a four-point margin in the battle to be county clerk.
Historically, DuPage County has been a staunch Republican stronghold since the 19th century.
That dynamic changed dramatically Tuesday when, in addition to Kaczmarek’s win, voters elected a Democrat in all of the six congressional districts that cover a portion of the county, said Robert Peickert, chairman of Democratic Party in DuPage County. “
DuPage is blue … every piece of DuPage County,” Peickert said. “It’s also the first time a Democrat won for governor in DuPage. (JB) Pritzker won by 4,000 votes.”
The county’s shift to Democratic shows how unhappy independents and some Republicans are with way the county was headed. “I also think the (President) Trump factor played a big role,” he said.
Brian Krajewski, chairman of the DuPage County Republicans, agreed anti-Trump sentiment was likely a factor in Democrats’ success locally.
“That may have been some of it, and there was some anti-Rauner, too,” he said. “Democrats were well-organized from the top down.”
Krajewski said DuPage Republicans must now self-assess.
“We need to figure out what we need to do,” he said. “The demographics here have changed, and we need to do a better job connecting with people who are newer to DuPage County and getting some young people involved in the Republican Party here.”
Jim Ruhl, chairman of the Naperville Township Republican Organization, said what the Democratic Party did well was targeting young voters directly or via social media.
He saw this in action when his 18-year-old daughter told him how many of her friends were encouraging each other to vote on various social media platforms, he said.
The demographic also was evident Wednesday when Ruhl showed up to help on a recount.
The Republicans were either retired people or adults whose businesses allowed them to take off during the day, he said. Those on the Democratic side were all college students.
“We need to do better at our ground game,” he said. “We need to do a better job at recruiting younger Americans who are concerned about the policies we stand for.”
Peickert attributes Kaczmarek’s win to the work she put over the last 13 years in efforts to clean up the election process in the county, leading to legislation that eliminated the DuPage County Election Commission. She became well-known for her efforts, he said.
“She got her name around; she got her message around,” Peickert said.
Her reward will be to oversee the process of the clerk’s office taking over responsibility for county elections.
While a handful of Democrats have been to the DuPage County Board over the years, Tuesday was a huge night for the Democratic Party when the number of Dems increased from one to seven.
Of the 12 open seats, Democrats won a seat in each of the board districts and plus a second seat in District 5.
Naperville Democrats Dawn DeSart and Sadia Covert were District 5’s top vote-getters.
Newcomer Ashley Selmon, a Democrat from Addison, will join the board in District 1 with incumbent Republican Sam Tornatore of Roselle, while District 2 incumbents Democrat Elizabeth Chaplin and Republican Peter DiCianni held off their challenger.
In District 3, Hinsdale residents, Democrat Julie Renehan and Republican Greg Hart, claimed victory along with District 4 Democratic newcomer Mary FitzGerald Ozog and incumbent Grant Eckhoff. Newcomer, Democrat Sheila Rutledge joins Republican incumbent James Zay in representing District 6.
Peickert said the party plans to build off the momentum from the election and work toward electing more Democrats in an effort to secure county board majority. “We want to continue the trend,” he said.
Besides the clerk and county board seats, the party also was able to pick up a circuit court judge seat with Democrat Linda Davenport defeating Republican Jeff Mackay.
While all of the county winners were female, Peickert said he didn’t believe the candidates weren’t elected just because they were women.
“I think that added to the trend. But all these candidates were well-qualified and worked hard,” he said.
In the other countywide races, Republican incumbent County Board Chairman Dan Cronin held off a challenge from Democrat Lynn LaPlante and Republican James Mendrick defeated Democrat Gregory Whalen in the race to succeed retiring Sheriff John Zaruba.
Pioneer Press reporter Kimberly Fornek contributed to this story.